Prayers of the Brethern

What Should We Pray For?
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"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7 NASB).

Peter Karavas

In prayer, we can praise, thank, and make requests of God. Is it proper to ask God to improve our health or to provide us a car so we can get to work? Or are we only to make spiritual requests, asking for help to develop patience, overcome jealousy, or speak the right words of comfort in grief? A careful study helps to find Biblical guidelines for our prayer lives.

(1) Pray for your Enemies Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:28

While it is natural to want punishment or destruction of our enemies, Jesus admonishes "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:27, 28 NASB). Opposite to our natural human thinking, Jesus said, "If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:33, 36 NASB).

How can we pray for our enemies? We can pray for their deliverance from the snares and delusions of Satan, and the blindness which hinders them from discerning the beauty of holiness. Yet, such prayers must be made with great humility, lest we be overcome with the pride of the Pharisees (Luke 18:9-14). Samuel sets an example by praying for the unfaithful nation of Israel who asked for a king in place of their true King, Jehovah. Even so, Samuel said, "God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you" (1 Samuel 12:23).

Why should we pray for our enemy? Because this is an example of the highest form of love, agape love. Jesus suffered and died for all mankind, including those who shouted, "Crucify him!" (Mark 15:13-14). As they were stoning Stephen, he cried out, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin" (Acts 7:60, Holman Christian Standard Bible). After Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, he later forgave them (Genesis 45:4-7), kissed them (verse 15) and gave them the fertile land of Goshen to live in (Genesis 46:34). If the followers of Christ are now being prepared to be earth’s future judges, priests and kings (Revelation 20:6, 1 Corinthians 6:2), then they must become the most decent, forgiving and loving people on the planet. Of all the Christian character qualities, "the greatest of these is love [agape]" (1 Corinthians 13:13 NKJV).

Agape or agapao is the highest type of love. God’s love for us was a sacrificial love. He had no obligation to love us; nor did he have any motives of self-interest (Romans 5:18). In the case of phileo love, we have a duty love to our family and friends. But in the case of agape love, our enemy has no right to our love, but we love him anyway. Yes, "God so loved [agapao] the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16 NKJV).

(2) Pray for the Harvest Work Matthew 9:37-38, Luke 10:2

"Then He [Jesus] said to his disciples, The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38 NKJV).

As Lord of the harvest, Jesus wanted his disciple’s minds, hearts, and efforts focused on his work. Those who are most earnestly praying and sympathetic are those who are most earnestly laboring in the harvest work. Paul said, "Every one who ser ves as a soldier keeps himself from becoming entangled in the world’s business — so that he may satisfy the officer who enlisted him" (2 Timothy 2:4, Weymouth).

Notice Jesus’ heart attitude in the Jewish Harvest work. "But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd" (Matthew 9:36 NKJV. Jesus’ attitude was neither harsh nor condemning of those who were lost. Some Christians preach their Gospel with an attitude of pride, condemning unbelievers. Like our Master, as we pray for the Gospel Harvest work, let us be moved with compassion for the blind, suffering masses. Let us support our prayers by participating in the work to the best of our opportunity and ability, endeavoring to let our light shine just as Jesus did.

(3) Pray for the Brethren James 5:14-18

"Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit" (James 5:14-18 NKJV).

"The prayer of faith will save the sick." Some have made the mistake of thinking that James is talking about physical healing. The word "sick" in verse 14 (from Strong’s 770) can refer to either physical or spiritual sickness depending upon the context. The same word is found in 1 Corinthians 8:12 — "weak conscience" — and in Romans 14:1 — "weak in the faith." Similarly, verse 15 says, "And the prayer of faith will save the sick." Here, the word sick comes from Strong’s 2577 which means "weary" or "tired," as it is used in Hebrews 12:3, "lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls."

Contextually, James is speaking about spiritual sickness, "And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another." If physical sickness were meant, James would not talk about the sick one being

forgiven sins. Ordinarily, there would be no need for an individual to confess his trespasses to others, unless it is to the person against whom he had trespassed (Matthew 18:15, Luke 17:3). Such sins need only be confessed to the Lord (1 John 1:9). However, if the sin is public knowledge and of such a severe nature as to break fellowship with the Lord, then the repentance needs to be public in order to restore fellowship with the brethren (Matthew 18:15-17, James 5:19-20).

In such a severe case, the sin-sick one, upon realizing his need, may call upon the ecclesia elders and confess his fault. The elders’ prayers should not be for the removal of the trial, or for discipline, but rather that the intended lesson is learned from the experience (Hebrews 12:5-13). The elders’ prayers should be for the forgiveness of the sins (vs. 15) and development of the "fruits of the spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23), by "anointing him with oil" (vs. 14). "Oil" represents the influence of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 1 John 2:27). Paul teaches, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11 NKJV).

It is essential that elders approach this spiritual healing effort with love and humility, lest they be overcome with feelings of pride, judgment, and superiority, perhaps then doing more harm than good (Galatians 6:1-3). However, praying for the brethren is not just the responsibility of the elders. As we learn of the trials and difficulties of our brethren, we all should pray that God will strengthen, encourage and overrule the experience for their welfare. Our prayers and words of encouragement toward righteousness will have the effect of elevating, stimulating, and reviving the spiritually weary, fainting one. The Lord has put a special responsibility upon each New Creature for developing a caring love for all of the other members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:25-26, Ephesians 4:15-16, 1 John 3:14- 16). Sometimes, the only way we can demonstrate that caring love is through prayer.

(4) Pray for the Holy Spirit — Luke 11:13

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:13 NKJV).

In verse 11 (NKJV), Jesus asks, "If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone?" Just as any loving parent is anxious to give their child the fleshly nourishment needed, so our Heavenly Father is anxious to provide us with the spiritual nourishment necessary to sustain our spiritual life. That spiritual nourishment comes from the understanding of God’s Word as revealed through the indwelling of God’s holy Spirit.

It is prudent for the New Creature to regularly ask for more of the oil (holy Spirit), lest, like the foolish virgins, we find that we are running out (Matthew 25:3,8). The advice of the wise virgins (Matthew 25:8,9) to the foolish ones was to go to the market place (of experiences) to purchase more oil (guidance of the holy Spirit). The wise had been doing this all along (Romans 8:9, Galatians 5:16,25, Ephesians 3:16-19, 5:18).

However, if we merely pray for the Spirit, but do not continue to earnestly study the Bible, serving the Lord and His people, we will remain "babes in Christ." The holy Spirit coupled with our knowledge of God’s plan and the character of Christ helps us grow more and more in the likeness of our Savior. The holy Spirit helps us both understand and then apply the teachings of the Truth in one’s life so that we may grow spiritually. Hence, we are admonished not to quench (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or grieve (Ephesians 4:30) the Spirit, which is so crucial to our growing up into Christ. Therefore, we must avoid at all costs extinguishing God’s holy Spirit in our lives through the spirit of worldliness, selfishness, thoughtlessness, indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, weariness in well-doing, or even permitting it to die out for want of replenishing.

Praying for the holy Spirit, does not mean relaxing and enjoying spiritual growth with no effort on our part. Instead, we must diligently work in conjunction with our prayers for more of God’s holy Spirit by (1) emptying ourselves of our spirit that we might receive God’s spirit in greater measure and then (2) submitting ourselves to the greatest extent possible to the spirit’s leading and control over our lives.

Sometimes the Lord helps us to grow spiritually by directing challenging experiences our way. "We don’t enjoy being disciplined. It always seems to cause more pain than joy. But later on, those who learn from that discipline have peace that comes from doing what is right. Strengthen your tired arms and weak knees. Keep walking along straight paths so that your injured leg won’t get worse. Instead, let it heal" (Hebrews 12:11-13 GWT).

(5) Pray in Secret — Matthew 6:6

Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of those who publicly drew attention to their good deeds and prayers (Matthew 6:5). They were looking for the praise of men and not for communion with God. At our meetings, we should not give long, poetic prayers to impress others. Jesus’ usual method of prayer was to go to the Father privately (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16). "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:6 NASB).

Prayer is the opportunity where we can unburden our hearts to the Lord and pour out to Him our cares and concerns, our hopes and our fears. Effectively, this can only be done in secret. There, alone with our Father, we can share our innermost thoughts and receive the necessary strength and refreshment needed by our New Creature. That is why our Lord so often prayed alone, as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mentally, we can "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) throughout the day seeking God’s guidance in our behavior. Nehemiah, in his mind, secretly prayed to God for help while he was standing before the king (Nehemiah 2:4).

Not all prayers should be in secret. Jesus prayed publicly to the Father when he raised Lazarus from the dead. His purpose was to let the people know that God had sent Him (John 11:41-42). Daniel also publicly prayed, visibly (Daniel 6:10), in spite of the new law that would condemn him to death. His motive evidently was to set an example of courage and faithfulness to God for the Jewish people. While prayer in public is appropriate, praying in secret is one of the best ways to strengthen our relationship with God and bring our hearts into greater harmony with Him.

(6) Pray for Deliverance Matthew 6:13

It is natural to want God to protect us from illness, financial distress, violence, etc. Jesus promised that the very hairs on our head are numbered (Luke 12:7). David spoke of the protection God’s children can rely on. "You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance" (Psalm 32:7 NKJV). Jesus had heavenly armies at his disposal which he could have requested through prayer to save him (Matthew 26:53 NKJV). But he did not.

The New Creature’s greatest danger is from spiritual threats. Satan is our great adversary so we must be on the alert to resist him, realizing our own insufficiency and need of divine aid. The adversary is more powerful and wiser than the natural man. Therefore, we need help if we are going to stand up against his assaults.

This is why Paul says, "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:11,12 NKJV). The Christian armor is the spiritual defense God has provided us to battle these invisible forces (Ephesians 6:13- 18). This armor includes the shield of faith, helmet of the hope of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, sword of the spirit (truth), sandals of the Gospel of peace, and our loins girded with a consecration to the service of the Truth (see Ephesians 6:13-17). Part of this armor is the privilege of entering into God’s presence and requesting His guidance, His help and His overruling in our experience through prayer. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:18).

Prayer and the armor of God protect us from spiritual threats. Yet, should we pray for deliverance from illness, financial distress, violence, etc.? Let us remember Jesus’ warning, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation" (Mark 14:38 NKJV). If you spend your life eating junk food, do not expect God to deliver you from illness. If you live beyond your financial means, do not expect God to pay off your credit cards. If you go with friends to a dangerous part of town, do not expect God to deliver you from violence (James 4:3).

We will eliminate much trouble when we "watch and pray." Yet, even so, the godly will suffer for righteousness (2 Timothy 3:12). The three Hebrews were not spared being thrown into the fiery furnace; yet, God delivered them out of it (Daniel 3:27). The Apostle Paul was not spared trouble. He was whipped, beaten, stoned, robbed, shipwrecked, imprisoned, hungry, cold, naked and even in danger from false brethren (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Paul was not spared these troubles, but he was delivered out of them.

In Psalms 91:15, we read, "He shall call upon Me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him" (NKJV). God promises, "I will be with him in trouble," but He will not, necessarily, spare us from the trouble if His wisdom sees that this trouble might prove beneficial to us. As Paul encouraged us, "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17 NASB).

While God does not promise that we shall be spared from trouble, He does promise that with the trouble, He will give His children a "way of escape" (1 Corinthians 10:13). He will provide consolation of heart and sustaining grace that will enable us to rejoice in the midst of tribulation (2 Corinthians 4:6-18, 12:9,10, Isaiah 43:1, 2). We see an example in Paul and Silas, who were able to sing praises to God in prison with their feet fast in the stocks and their backs bleeding from the whipping. They could rejoice in tribulation for Christ’s sake.

We cannot expect that upon our request, God will spare us from illness, financial distress, violence, etc. However, we can be assured and encouraged that the Lord is always with us to provide comfort, assistance and guidance through our trials to the degree that we exercise faith in His Word and His promises (1 Peter 1:7, 1 John 5:4).

(7) Pray for Forgiveness — Luke 11:4

Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our sins" (Luke 11: 4). He also said, "if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you ... But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses" (Mark 11:25- 26 NKJV).

How sad it would be if we were to ask God to forgive us while at the same time be unwilling to forgive others! "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7 NKJV). To emphasize this point, Jesus spoke the parable of the unmerciful servant who had been forgiven a tremendous debt, but would not forgive a tiny debt from a fellow servant (Matthew 18:21-35).

Our Heavenly Father, through Christ, has forgiven us a debt we could not pay — Adamic condemnation. Like the unmerciful servant, if we are harsh, unsympathetic, and unforgiving toward our brethren, the Heavenly Father will not forgive us.

How sad if pride causes us to not seek forgiveness because we are blind to our own failings (1 John 1:8)! We need be aware of our sins, looking to Jesus for help in overcoming them (Hebrews 4:15-16). John said, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9 NKJV). Prayer is the mechanism God has provided through which we can approach Him, confess our sins and ask both for His forgiveness and His help in forgiving others.

True forgiveness toward others means that we will not harbor feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment, but rather mercy, kindness, and compassion. Oftentimes, we will need God’s help through prayer to develop this forgiveness.

Simon the sorcerer offered the Apostles money for the holy Spirit. Peter said, "I see a man bitter with jealousy and bound with his own sin" (Acts 8:23 Phillips). He gave Simon a solution. In verse 22, he said, "All you can do now is to repent of this wickedness of yours and pray earnestly to God that if possible the evil intention of your heart may be forgiven." Peter was not uncharitable. Instead, he kindly urged the sinner to repent and request forgiveness from God through prayer.

Final Thoughts on What to Pray For

Wisdom. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally" (James 1:5 NKJV). God was pleased when Solomon asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:9, 10). Thus, Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs, a book of practical, daily wisdom that was provided by God.

Faith. "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord" (James 1:6-7 NKJV, see also Matthew 21:22). If we will not believe in God, He will not believe in us and our prayers will fall on deaf ears.

Needs. Jesus said, "For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8 NKJV). Jesus did not say that we should not ask for our needs, but rather assured us that the Father knows what we need before we ask. In fact, he tells us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). In Matthew 6:25-33, Jesus tells us not to have anxiety about what we shall eat, drink, or wear, because our Heavenly Father will provide all these things. We can pray with faith for our needs (not our wants), knowing He will provide them (Philippians 4:6). Just do not expect gourmet meals and designer jeans.

If you need transportation for work, but do not have a car, it is not a sin to ask God for help, "if it be your will" (1 John 5:14, Luke 22:42). Without a job how can you provide for your family? Paul said, "if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8 NASB).

God Remembered Abraham’s Request to Spare the Righteous in Sodom
(Genesis 19:29)

"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16 NKJV). If we make our requests to God accepting His will, it is proper to ask. If we are wrong, God will correct us, not giving us what we think we need. However, Jesus does say, "ask and you will receive" (Matthew 7:7 GWT). With our children we sometimes wait for them to ask for something first, so that they appreciate it more, remembering its source. Likewise, our Heavenly Father does not want us to take Him for granted. God wants us to acknowledge our needs to Him, and that He is the source of our blessings, temporal and spiritual (Proverbs 3:6).

Human Wants. God is not a cosmic Santa ready to give us whatever we wish. James warns, "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3 NKJV).

Did not the Apostle Paul ask for a physical want in regard to his vision? "Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NKJV).

Paul’s spiritual strength was made perfect in his fleshly weakness. It helped prevent pride taking root in his heart. Instead, he embraced his adversities to grow his Christian character. Paul may have felt he could serve the Lord better without this liability, yet, he graciously accepted God’s will. So every request we make to God should be with the condition, "thy will be done" (Matthew 6:10), and the determination to accept God’s will even when we want a different result (Luke 22:42).

Spiritual Requests. It is appropriate to make spiritual requests, for wisdom (James 1:5), the holy Spirit (Matthew 7:11), and the spiritual health of brethren (James 5:14-18). "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1 John 5:14 NKJV). The key is that we should be asking God for what He wants for us. We learn what that is from His Word — primarily spiritual things.